Selecting a Heat Lamp
Using a heat lamp, preferably one that emits 250-watt infrared heat, is your best bet for keeping chicks happily toasty. While screw-in ceramic heaters are also effective, ordinary incandescent bulbs, electric heat pads and hot-water radiators are not recommended because they don’t provide reliable heat at an optimum temperature and run the risk of overheating your chicks.
Purchase a red-tinted bulb instead of a clear or white bulb if you can — red light is less stressful to chicks than white light, and chicks exposed to light/dark cycles sleep better, are calmer and are less likely to peck feathers. Some people use two smaller-wattage lamps instead of one high-wattage lamp so that the chicks will still have heat if one of the bulbs burns out in the middle of the night.
Mounting the Lamp
Insert the bulb into a metal reflector with an adjustable clamp and ceramic socket, and mount the lamp off the ground, facing down into the enclosure. For best results, shine the lamp on one end of the enclosure so the chicks can self-regulate their temperature by moving from the cool end to the hot end. Make sure the lamp has no way of falling or touching anything flammable.
Keeping Chicks Comfortable
92 - 95°F
85 - 90°F
80 - 85°F
70 - 80°F
8 Weeks +
By adjusting the lamp up and down, you can fine-tune your brooder box's temperature. Start the lamp a day or so before adding your chicks. Use a non-breakable thermometer placed at chick height to determine the ideal heat lamp placement. Temperature (and heat lamp placement) varies according to chick age; the temperatures listed to the right are general guidelines provided by Virginia Tech's Cooperative Extension Program.
Before adjusting the temperature, monitor your chicks' behavior. Comfortable chicks will spread themselves more or less evenly throughout the brooding area. Cold chicks generally huddle together under the lamp, cheeping loudly. Overheated chicks often stand apart from one another, far away from the lamp, panting with their beaks open. Adjust the lamp up or down accordingly until the chicks are comfortable.
Looking at the chicks' legs will also give you an indication about their temperature preference. The legs of cold chicks are cold to the touch and appear puffy or swollen. The legs of overheated chicks can look dry, thin and dehydrated.